The Measuring Spoon, the Ring and the Drinking cup

From the Memoir of the Marshal of Bassompierre (François de Bassompierre)


Image from Wikipedia – A portrait of 17th century preserved in the galerie du Château de Beauregard

In the Duchy of Lorraine, as it belonged to Germany for a long time, the last count of Orgewiler ruled the region between Nanzig and Luenstadt (Luneville). He didn’t have a son and hence on his death bed, he distributed his province among his three daughters and sons-in-law. The eldest daughter had married Simons von Bestein, the middle Master von Crouy and the youngest a German count from Rhein. Apart from the landed property, he gave three special gifts to his heirs: the oldest daughter a measuring spoon, the middle one a drinking cup and the third one a jewel ring. While presenting those, he also uttered a warning that they and their descendants should carefully preserve these pieces to keep their homes blissful forever.

The marshal von Bassompierre (Bassenstein), great-grandson of Simons, accounts the story – how the  count of Orgewiler himself received the gift: the count was married, but still had a secret love affair with an exquisitely beautiful woman. The lady used to come to him in his summer house located in the middle of the estate’s garden every Monday. The secret meeting arrangement was long hidden from his wife. Before leaving for the summer home every Monday, he explained her that he would go to the woods at night to fulfill his moral obligation of royalty.

However after a couple of years, the countess became suspicious and tried to find out the truth. One early summer morning she crept behind him, and entered the summer home. There she saw her husband sleeping in the arms of a stunningly beautiful woman. However, they both slept so peacefully in each other’s arms, that she did not want to wake her up; only removed her veil from her head and spread it over her tender sleeping feet.

After some time, the beautiful mistress woke up and looked for her veil. All on a sudden she burst into tears, complained miserably and lamented: “This will have to end here, my dearest, we’ll never see each other again! Now I will have to stay a hundred miles away separated from you.”

Saying this she bid good bye to the Count, but before leaving she honoured him with three previously mentioned gifts for his three daugh uttering the same warning that they should never lose the gifts.

The house of Bassenstein had to collect a fruit-wine from the town of Spinal (now Épinal) for a long time, for which they always used the measuring spoon they received from their ancestor.

François de Bassompierre (1579 – 1646) was a French courtier. His Mémoire was first published at Cologne in 1665. This of course is a significant source of 17th century European history.

The King-size Toys

Oral story from forest-dwellers

The castle as seen beside the waterfall from the foot of Nieden

A long ago in Elsaß on the Burg Nideck, which is located on a high hill beside a waterfall, the knights was gigantic.

Once one knight’s daughter went to the valley as she wanted to see how the plains below the hills looked. She came down till Haslach. She stopped in front of an agricultural field before the forest. The field was just tilled by the farmers. She stood astonished gazing at the plough, the horses and the peasants – while everything was something new to him. “Wow!” – She said, “I will take them all.”

She knelt down on the earth, spread out her apron, scratched the field with her hands and scooped a chunk. Tying everything in her apron, she rushed home in amusement leaping up the rock in quick and easy steps where the mountain was so steep that a normal man had to climb with difficulty.  

The knight was sitting at the table when she entered, “Come, my child!” – He said, “What did you bring? Your cheer is glittering in your eyes!” She swiftly opened her apron and let him look into that.

“What are the fidgety things there?” –  asked the father.

Daughter answered, “Oh father, this are so nice things to play! I haven’t ever had so beautiful toys in my life.” She placed everything on the table taking them out one by one – the plough, the peasants with their horses – she danced around looking at them, laughed and clapped her hands gleefully as the small creatures moved back and forth on the chunk of earth. But the father said, “No my child, these are not toys. What you have picked are indeed beautiful, but these are not something to play with. Just go straight down to the valley and leave them there from where you have picked.”

The girl cried, but her tear didn’t help.

The knight sounded serious as he said, “The farmers are not toys to me. I am not sorry seeing you grumble. Pick them up gently again and carry to the place from where you took them. If these farmers don’t plough their fields down in the valley, we giants will have nothing to survive on in our rock nest here.”

A famous tale collected by Grimms is associated with legend of Nideck. The  Château du Nideck or castle of Niedeck of 12th-13th century is found in a ruined state in the commune of Oberhaslach in the Bas-Rhin region of France, at the Germany-France border. Gigantic size could be a symbolic presentation – the story tells us about a farmer-friendly ruler of the land. The picture is found in Wikimedia commons – an image titled “Burg Nideck. Nach der Natur aufgenommen von Rob. Aßmus.” from page 820 of German magazine Die Gartenlaube , 1871, published from Leipzig.

The Silver-Spring

Picture credit: Wikimedia commons

It was February 1605. In the land under duke Heinrich Julius von Braunschweig, about a mile away from Quedlinburg, there was a poor farmer. He sent his daughter to a bush nearby, to pick some firewood. The girl took a hand-cart and a basket to carry on shoulder to get enough of wood. Filling both the cart and basket, when she was preparing to return home, a dwarf man in white cloths appeared before her; said, “What are you carrying?” “I picked firewood for cooking and heating.” – answered the girl.

“Throw your wood out! Take you baskets and follow me – I will show you something better and more useful than that firewood.” Saying this, the man grasped her hand and pulled her behind a hillock and showed a space approximately as wide as two normal tables. She saw a heap of small and large silver coins of medium thickness, on which a picture of someone like Mother Mary’s was embossed. Around the picture, something was written in an ancient script. But as soon as she noticed the silver being poured out of the earth in large quantities, the girl was horrified and backed away; didn’t want to throw the firewood out of her basket either.

Hence the little man clad in white did it himself, filled the cart with the money and pushed the cart towards the girl saying, “This will work better for you than that wood.” But the girl looked dismayed when the little man asked her to throw out the wood she was carrying in her basket and put silver in it instead. She resisted telling, “I must also get wood for my home. We have children at home; they should have a warm room and then there should be wood for cooking as well.”

Happy with her answer, the little man said, “Well, push the cart with those then.” and disappeared.

The girl brought home the cart filled with silver and told the story, what had happened to her. As the villagers came to know the story, all the peasants ran to the grove behind the hill with their shovels and other tools. All wanted to get a share of the treasure, but no one could find the place where the silver had oozed out.

The prince of Braunschweig wanted to collect one pound of that silver. However he got only one just like a common citizen from Halberstadt.

It’s difficult to determine whether there was a silver mine in the mentioned region someday in past. Anyway the reference of silver coin made me remember the story of Silver coin of Agnes II von Meissen, abbess of Quedlinburg. Abbesses of a small group of outstanding convents were given minting rights by the then German emperors. They did not rule the territory but enjoyed the minting right of the territory ruled by a prince. In 11th\12th century, the abbesses minted silver coins on which the figure of Agnes II, abbess from 1184 to 1203 was embossed. The design of the coin looked like the the one showed here:  

Paradise for Animals

An orally transferred story from Oberwallis in Vispertaal

There was a certain district on the top of the high and inaccessible rocks and snow ridges of the Mattenberg. Not only the most beautiful chamois and ibex, also other wonderful and strange animals, live and graze together like they do in paradise. A man can succeed in arriving this place only every twenty years. Also only one out of twenty chamois hunters reach here. However none is allowed to bring an animal down to the plain-land. The hunters know a lot to tell about the magical beauty of that place. If you success to go there someday, you will find names of many people are inscribed on the barks of the trees. Perhaps many have visited the place before you one by one. We have heard that one of them even brought a magnificent ibex skin once.

Oberwallis

(The story came from Valais in Southern Switzerland. And the reference of the mount Matterhorn suggests that people in the area were aware of animals in high mountain riffs. Commoners could not climb the glacier those days, stories from the mouth of awfully courageous hunters was the option to learn about the paradise.)

The Saint’s Image having Miraculous Power – from Lerchenstock near Waldrast

A folktale from Austrian Tirol region

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons – Maria-Waldrast-Kirche

It was year 1392. The great Lady of the heaven had sent an angel to Tyrol – in Waldrast on Serlesberg to be precise. He stepped in front of a concave step of Lerchenstock and spoke to it taking the name of the Blessed Mother:

“The picture of the Lady of the heaven should bloom on you.” 

In course of time a picture grew on the step. Two pious shepherd boys, namely Hänsle and Peterle from the village called Mizens first saw it in 1407. The astonished boys rushed down to the peasants in the field; said, “Go to the mountain. There is something amazing on the concave floor. We did not dare to touch it.”

The holy picture was now recognized, removed from the stone wall with a saw, and immediately brought to Matrei – which was then called Burg Matrey. It stood in the same place until a church was built on its own for Waldrast. God entrusted the task of building it to a poor woodcutter named Lusch from Matrey.

On one Whitsunday, the wood carver lied on his bed and slept like he does every night.

He heard a voice from somewhere. It asked: “Are you asleep or awake?” He thought he was dreaming; hence didn’t reply. The voice asked him the same once, twice and thrice! The third time he realized he was awoke and asked: “Who are you? What do you want?”

The voice said, “You will have to curve a chapel in the honour of the Waldrast.”

The wood-carver said, “I will not do that.” He heard nothing after that.

But the voice returned on the other night of Whitsunday, and spoke to him as before. This time the wood carver said, “I’m too poor to do that.” This time too, the voice didn’t speak anything else.

But the voice came back again on the third night of Whitsunday close to his bed. It uttered the same lines as before. The man could not sleep out of worries three nights; now he heard “How do you think you will not let me have my chapel?” Then it preached again: “You shall do it.” The man repeated like he did before: “I will not do it.”

Someone lifted the wood carver and threw him straight up into the air saying: “You shall do it now as I order you so!”

The man thought, “Oh, poor me! What can I do now? I have to tell that I will do, right?” He told that he wanted to do it but only in the location which he would find to be the perfect one.  

The voice said: “In the forest there is a green patch of mosses. You will have to lie down there and rest; then only the right place will be made known to you.”

The wood carver got up, went to the forest, found the green patch inside, lay down on the moss to take rest there. (That is why the forest is named Waldrast – meaning Forest where wood carver had taken rest).  As he fell asleep, he heard two chimes in his sleep. When he woke up, he saw a church standing before him on the green patch. He also caught the sight of a lady in white holding a child in her arm for a moment.

Now he admitted, “O God almighty! This must be the right place.” He moved to the spot where he had seen the picture and began measuring the spot where he was supposed to build a church. He heard the bell ringing till he was marking, but no more after his marking was over.

Still in despair, he called, “Tell me God, how I shall complete the task? I am so poor – do not have a manor that I can spend for this kind of a construction.”

The known voice spoke to him again, “Go to the pious people. They will donate you more than enough for this. It will take long 36 years to be prepared for consecration. After all those procedure, it will become a great symbol of piousness for eternity.”

Before starting the task of building the chapel, the man went to his confessor father and found him to be the patron, who sent him to the Bishop Ulrich gen Brixen. In fact he visited the Bishop five times to get the permission to build the church and the chapel. Finally on a Tuesday before the day of Saint Pancratius in the year 1409 the Bishop approved it and he finished his mission.

The wood carver got the permission only the moment before he had completed the assignment. The church and chapel remained a miracle of the god for ever.

(The almighty asks for submission – and every poor soul has to submit before God’s will forced by God if not abiding on his own. The moral of the story is the moral of almost all religions, but Christianity in Europe attached this kind of stories with places, indicating spreading the religion in entire Europe was not an easy task. In fact it took years to convert each of its regions to Christian belief. Language of the original story says that this version was developed in medieval era)

The Essential-Shirt

The essential shirt has to be prepared following way. On Christmas night, two virgin girls who are not yet seven years old, have to spin, weave and sew a linen shirt. Its design would be unique. On its chest there would be two heads. The one on the right should have long beard and a helmet, and the one on the left with a crown as the devil wears it. Both will be attached with a cross. The shirt has to be long enough to cover a man from his neck to half his body.

Whoever wears such a shirt in battlefield is safe from pierces, blows, shots and other twist of fates. That is reason emperors and princes put it on. Women about to give birth also wear it so that childbirth becomes quicker and easier.

On the other hand, women cannot prevent death of their dear husbands if they fail to gift such a garment. Hence they look for these kinds of shirts which are no longer easily available.

A medieval tale telling the power of virginity that works against enemies in battlefield. This indicates the medieval era threat to life for European men, many f whom were engaged in Crusades. Also the triumph of virgin power makes us remember the unicorn stories. Women’s virginity and chastity have been associated to magical powers both in Indian Hindu and European Christian mythical stories – did one influence the other?

The Little Mouse

This incident happened in the beginning of 17th century in Thuringia near Saalfeld – in a distinguished aristocrat home of Wirbach.

The servants were peeling fruits in the room, when a maid felt sleepy. She went away leaving the other workers and laid down aside. She did not go very far, but was taking rest on a bench nearby. She was lying awhile, when a little red mouse crept out of her open mouth.

Almost all the servants noticed it and showed it to each other. The little mouse hurried towards the window that had been just opened, crawled out, and stayed away for a while. In the meanwhile a nosy maid became excessively curious about her. Despite of others forbidding her, she went near the lifeless maid, and began shaking her. Failing to awake her, the foolish maid moved her to another place, and went away leaving her there. The little mouse returned soon after, ran to the place it knew – where it had crawled out of the maid’s mouth. It ran here and there for some time to find the maid’s body; finally being unable to find the body which it belonged to, it went nowhere to be found.

The maid lied lifeless and remained so – never to get up. The silly one had to bear the brunt of regret for her error for ever. But one servant in the same firm often stayed under pressure and could not find peace before. His hardship came to an end by the death of the maid.

The Little Man on the Shoulder

It was March 1669. A rope-maker was on his way to Torgau. He came across a boy in the field. The boy was playing sitting on the ground for play. A wooden log was lying in front of him. Crossing the log was difficult – the rope maker went almost out of his wit while trying to cross it. Suddenly he heard the by telling, “Why don’t you push my log away from the road? My father will thank you for that.” The rope-maker however crossed the log taking much effort and walked away without paying attention to the boy’s words.

After one hundred steps he met a little man with gray beard. He looked old. The old man told that he was too tired as he had walked long. He asked him, “Wouldn’t you please carry me to the next village?” The rope-maker laughed at his proposition. Can you imagine what happened next?

The little old man jumps on his shoulder, and sat tight that the rope-maker had to squat till next village. Our rope-maker died after ten days. His son went on lamenting pitifully about his death. The little boy appeared before him; said, “You should be glad that whatever happened to your father is good. He is spared of the bad time approaching soon. You should now take care of your mother.”

The little boy disappeared and a natural calamity followed soon.

The Dog of Bretten

The story of punishment for faithfulness comes from the Rhenish Palatinate, especially in Kraichgau, where an associated phrase is also popular: “It may happen to you, like the dog of Bretten.” In some area the story revolves around a fish, however moral is the same.

In the small town called Bretten lived a man who had a faithful dog. He trained the dog to serve him many ways. Not only it helped him at home, but also carried out tasks outside home. The man used to send it out to shops, giving it a basket in its mouth, in which the needed amount of money and a list of goods to be purchased were written. That way it brought meat and sausage from the butcher as well. Needless to say, the faithful dog never touched the meat. It was happy with meal its master gave.

However its protestant master committed a big mistake one day. He sent the dog on a Friday to a butcher who was catholic and strictly kept the fast. As the butcher saw in slip that a sausage was ordered, he grabbed the poor dog tight, cut off its tail and put it in the basket with a note: “Here goes your sausage!” The faithful dog, even though hurt and wounded, carried the basket faithfully through the alleys to the master’s home. It died after keeping the basket before him.  The whole city mourned its death. An image of a dog without tail was curved in a stone and placed above the city gate.

The dog without a tail in a monument in Bretten – credit Wikimedia commons

But another version of the story contradicts the moral. As per the other version, the unfaithful dog used to steal meat and sausages from the basket which it had to carry for its poor master. Finally a butcher caught it one day and punished it by cutting its tail.

Same story; two opposite versions teaching two different morals – first one is the peril of being too faithful and second one, punishment of betrayal. Which one should learn? Obviously that depends on one’s own discretion. But the monument in memory of the dog in the city of Britten points to the first version.

The Giant’s Blood-river

Between the town of Egeln and the village Westeregeln in Magdeburg, not far from the Hakels, there was a shallow water canal. The water is red here; and the local people call it the stream of Giant’s blood. 

The story goes like this: once upon a time one of the giants was being chased by another. Running fast to save own life, he crossed the river Elbe. But when he reached the area where now Egeln lies, he could place only one foot on the narrow ground, moreover could not lift the other foot enough to be able to hang from the tower-top of the old castle. He stumbled, tried to get up and crossed a few thousand foots in between, nevertheless finally collapsed.

His nose struck straight with a large boulder in Westeregeln in such a big force that his nasal bone was crushed. A steam of blood flowed and the red flow we see these days is the remains of that.

Reddish river? -picture credit Wikimedia Commons

We have another version of this story. That says that the giant lived in the area of ​​Westeregeln. He enjoyed playing between the mountains, jumping over the village and its small inhabitants and often indulged in this game. But one day he jumped and cut his big toe as it foot struck on the top of the tower. His blood sprang out of the wound in a thousand-foot arc to reach the pool below. Thus the never-ending stream of giant blood was created.

The Eye of the Needle in Bilefeld

At the Bilefeld Abbey, on the left hand side, next to the Harz road, a heavy stone-block stands noticeably on a high mountain. This has a long and narrow passage in its centre. All the farmhands of Nordhausen and the surrounding localities had to crawl through this thrice when they needed to go to the Harz-forest behind Bielefeld to bring fire-woods. Crossing this eye of the needle was cumbersome as well as act of bravery, needless to say. On top of that their comrades behind mercilessly torture them with whip-butts, while they crawled in and out.

If some of them did not want to endure that diversion, they had to liberate themselves from their masters in exchange of money. Farmhands were bonded surfs otherwise. The authorities had forbidden this custom several times, but even their prescribed punishment went in vain. The surfs who tried to avoid the custom of being hurt could not live peacefully with their own group members because others were not ready to accept their rejection of the custom anyway.

But how did the weird stone come their? We have a popular story here: a giant was travelling through this region once. He crossed miles before reaching behind Bilefeld. Coming here he felt that something was pricking him in the shoe. He took his shoes off to check and found a stone inside. He removed the stone and tossed that in the wind. It fell in the place of mountain where it is seen today. It became the eye of the needle.

Through these mountain holes towards the forest behind? – picture credit Wikimedia commons

A stone thrown by a giant and it’s turning a terrible route to cross an otherwise difficult mountain can be a story not so unusual but when people need to tolerate physical torture by own group member while crossing the route, it becomes uncommon.  Content wise a unique story to me; cannot remember any similar story from anywhere.

Throwing the Shirts

This incident happened in Coburg. The girls of the village, curious to know who would be their future lover, were sitting together in a room on Christmas Eve. They followed all mandatory customs religiously. They did not even forget to collect nine kinds of wood-pieces from the forest the day before. As midnight approached, they made a fire in the room and the first one took off her clothes. She threw her shirt out of the door, and chanted standing beside the fire:

“Here I am waiting absolutely naked,

If here comes my lover awaited –

And throws my shirt in my lap, elated! “

Within moments her shirt was thrown inside again. She could also see the face of the man who did throw it. She was happy – this man was truly the person whom she courted later. Seeing her to turn lucky, other girls also undressed one by one, stood naked beside the fire and chanted the same lines. Only thing they did not know was the art of throwing their shirts together wrapped in a cloak. The spirits could not find the exact one they were supposed to collect and throw back. They began to hop around aimlessly outside, roaring and grumbling, so much so that the girls were horrified. Finally the poor girls had to douse the fire and crawl to bed silently to remain unnoticed to the restless spirits. When the girls came out of the room in the morning, they discovered their shirts torn into thousands of small pieces – scattered in front of the door.

Greeting card with Christmas Devil Krampus by 1900 – credit: WIkimedia commons

We know of pagan tradition of decorating homes with branches of evergreen trees during winter solstice; also know how this tradition was maintained, somewhat in a modified way especially by German speaking people even after their conversion to Christianity. Anyway I couldn’t find information about the significance nine types of woods here – would be grateful if any reader can enlighten.

Second interesting idea is the “spirits” – seemingly evil, which appears on Christmas eve when shirts are not properly wrapped by adolescent girls waiting to be selected by potential husband. The Christmas evil Krampus and associated Krampuslauf was popular in Austria and Bavarian regions. Krampus was supposed to take bad children away in his basket; do not know the spirit in the story is similar to that.

The Wheel of Fortune

Twelve mercenaries returned from Ditmar war. They could not gain much from the war and hence, were little depressed. They were walking through the country-roads faint-hearted having no idea what they would have for food next day.  

On the way they met a gray-bearded short man. Greeting them he asked, “Where are you coming from? Where are you going?” The twelve men replied together, “From the battlefield and want to go where we can become rich, but could not find the place as yet.” The little gray-bearded man said, “The trick of being rich will be clear to you if you follow me; only don’t have a desire to have anything out of it.” The soldiers asked, “What is it you mean?” “It is called the Wheel of Fortune. It is under my control. The one I bring to the wheel learns fortunetelling and in course of time learn to dig treasure out of the earth using their knowledge. I will do this for you only on one condition – I will have the authority to select one from your group to place on the advantageous position on the wheel.”

Wheel of fortune: an woodcut by Albrecht Dürer 15th century: credit Wikimedia Commons

Now they wanted to know which one of them would be the fortunate one. The gray chap replied, “The one I am in the mood for! Anyway that I will decide later; do not know that in advance.” The mercenaries pondered long to decide whether they should accept the proposition or not. Finally they reached an unanimous conclusion, “Man must die once. We could die in the battle of Dietmar; or the devastating plague could have dragged us to hell long back. We survived all threats, and as long as we did, we dare to play the game with you. This is anyway much easier while it will hit us only once. So they joined together to submit themselves in the man’s hand, with the condition that he would take them to the Wheel of Fortune, and would offer one of them the opportunity to become fortunate.

The gray man led them to the wheel. Arriving at the spot where the gigantic wheel stood, they sat far away from each other, each one maintaining a distance of three cords from the next. However the old man forbade them not to look at one another as long as they were sitting on the wheel. Whoever does do that would break own neck. After they sat as instructed, the master seized the wheel with the cords tied with both his hands and feet, and began spinning until it went upside down, twelve hours in a row, and once every hour.

To them the world under them seemed as if clear water. Like it is seen through a mirror, they could see everything they intended, good or evil. When they saw people, they recognized them and knew each of their names. But above them it was like fire, as it burning pivots hung down.

They had endured twelve hours. The master of the Wheel of fortune singled out a delicate young man from the wheel, the son of a minister from Meissenwaar, and led him through the middle of the fire-flames. The eleven others did not know what had happened to them while they sank into a deep sleep as if intoxicated. They woke up after lying out in the open for several hours; found that the clothes on their bodies became brittle. The glowing heat they had to go through crumbled all their shirts. They got up to start walking once again with the fresh hope to find fortune and happiness. No, luck did not support them. They remained poor forever  spending the rest of their lives begging for bread at other people’s doorsteps.

The Maiden from Wilberg or The Best Treasure

Wild flowers Centaurea cyanus: credit Wikimedia commons

A peasant from Wehren near Höxter (town in NordRhine-Westphalia) went to the Amelungs mill to grind corn from his field. On the way back he wanted to take little rest near a cool pond. He was lying on the green grass when he saw a young lady coming towards him from Wilberg that lies opposite to Godelheim. Coming closer she requested, “Please bring me two buckets of water from the peak of the Willberg; you can expect a good reward for this.” He went to the peak of Wilberg and carried the water from there as she asked. She said, “Please come back at this hour tomorrow morning with a bunch of flowers from the bushes which shepherds from Osterberge wear on their hats.”

The next day the man visited a shepherd in Osterberg to get a bunch of flowers from him. The shepherd gave him one nice bunch, but only after many ardent requests. Glad receiving what he wanted, the peasant went back to the Willberg valley. He saw the young lady standing there. This time she led him to an iron door saying, “keep the flower-bunch in front of the castle-door.” He did what she said. And as soon as he did, the door opened. Both entered the hill-castle through the door.

There was a small cave inside which sat a little man at a table. His beard had grown so long that it touched the floor across the stone table. He was facing a large pile of treasure in front of the table looking like a mound. The elated shepherd kept his flowers on the table in without wasting time and began filling his pockets with gold coins from the pile.

The young lady was watching him silently. Now she said, “Do not forget the best!” The man looked around. He thought that the best meant a large and heavy chandelier studded with gemstones. But as he stepped towards that, a hand came out from under the table all on a sudden and slapped him on the face. The young lady was heard speaking again, “Do not forget the best!” However the man had nothing but the treasures in mind. He forgot the bunch of flowers by then.

Filling his pockets with as much of gold and gemstones as he could, he thought of leaving the space. The moment he stepped out of the iron-gate, it crashed terribly against him. Scared, he tried to unload everything he collected in the pockets. What did he see? All the treasures he picked up with so much of effort turned into pieces of papers. Now he remembered the bunch of wild flowers he left carelessly on the table. Finally he realized which best treasure he should have kept with him.

Saddened seeing the consequence of own foolish thought the man stepped towards his home downhill.

The Maiden of Staufenberg

On the Harz near Zorge, a Braunschweig village, lies the area named Staufenberg. It became Staufenburg after the castle was built. On a particular cliff on the mountain, there is an impression of a human foot. This was created by the footsteps of a daughter of the old castle owner.  She often stood here for long. This was her favourite spot from where she looked at the enchanting surrounding. The delighted little girl with curly golden hair is still visible on the cliff at times.

Burg Stauffenburg , bailey at the entry gate. Credit: Wikimedia commons

Stauffenburg is the ruin of a former hill-fort at Seesen-Münchehof in the district of Goslar in Lower Saxony. The first buildings of the castle were probably built in the 11th century by the Counts of Katlenburg. Over the centuries, it has been constantly rebuilt and rebuilt till they began demolishing it parts in 18th century for the construction of other buildings in the area. It was built to protect the Harz mining area as well as securing the Thuringian army road, which lies below the castle of Seesen from southeast along the Harz to Nordhausen. The first documentary mention of the name Stauffenburg is found in 1154 CE and the castle was then in the name of a ministerial family, which is mentioned in a document of Henry the Lion. This indirectly suggests the existence of the castle. Obvious that it changed hands several times through the ages. Which owner the story mentions? – We have no way to determine.

The Drowned Child

The story was first published in German National Newspaper 1796

They have lot many a tale to tell about water; also about the lakes, rivers and seas to which an innocent child has to be sacrificed each year. But the water-bodies did not turn any of those children into a corpse but threw them to the shore instantly, or a little late. True the bodies came out late at times, but even the last bone emerged floating after it sank till the innermost depth of the sea.

We have a story of a mother who had drowned her child in a lake. She kept on praying to the god and all the saints to return her at least the bones intact for the child’s funeral; and she waited in good faith in her pure heart.

The next storm brought the skull back to the shore and the following one, the body. After all the body parts reached the shore, the mother collected all the hands and feet and everything is a piece of cloth, tied them up and carried the bundle to the church. What a wonder! With her each stride, the bundle was becoming heavier.  

Finally as she reached the foot of the Alter, her child inside the pack began crying. She laid the bundle on the steps of the Alter; the child – safe and sound, showed up removing the cloth surprising everyone. Only one little finger of his tiny fingers was missing.

The mother went back to the shore later and searched carefully for the tiny finger-bone. Needless to say she found it there. The bone was preserved in the church among other relics.

The sailors and fishermen of Cüstin in the Neumark (Brandenburg) also spoke of an unknown force controlling the river Oder which claimed one innocent life every year as a sacrifice. Death came to the people for whom it was destined; rest came out of the turmoil alive. The city Halloren in Salle was especially afraid of Johannestag, the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. Sacrifice of an innocent life was predictable on this day.

Luckenwalde in Brandenburg. Die Stadtkirche St. Johannis am Markt . Credti:Wikimedia commons

What is the story of Saint John the Baptist? He was born of elderly parents; hence is associated to growth, health and fertility. If we consider the season of his birth, it is around the day of summer solstice which is regarded significant by local farmers for their livestock and crops. Local belief adopted a small, star-shaped yellow flower that blooms during this period as St. John’s word. Following an ancient Pagan tradition, large bonfires are lighted in the villages on the previous night to ward off the evil spirits who are responsible for carrying contagious diseases. These bonfires are usually arranged at the highest peak of the hill in the village. Farmers spread the ash in their fields with a belief that it would enhance the fertility of the soil. We don’t have a record of human sacrifice during this occasion here but similar kind of sacrifice was prevalent in many ancient cultures.

The story of drowning child in the water-bodies makes me remember Mahabharata story where incarnated river-goddess Ganga drowns her seven new-born babies in the river to release them from the curse of living a mortal life. We also know of the medieval era tradition of drowning new-born babies in Gangasagar. Difficult to determine if people in medieval era learnt superstitious beliefs from each other or many of the communities followed similar practices independently.

The Shepherd Boy met a Tiny Animal

An interesting story which mentions even the year!

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the year 1664, a young boy from Dresden took care of the herd of the village. One morning when he was taking his sheep for grazing, he spotted an unusual stone on the roadside. It was of moderate size, but it was jumping on the ground by itself. The curious boy stepped closer and looked at the stone. After sometime, he picked it up from the ground. As soon as he lifted the stone, a young meerkat hopped surprising him; then stood in front of the shepherd boy looking straight at him. Then it said in a human voice, “I was deported deep inside the ground, now you have brought me back to life. I will be happy to serve you now. Give me some work. I have to keep myself engaged. “

The flabbergasted boy somehow replied, “Well, you should help me to look after my sheep then.” Following his order, the tiny manlike animal guarded the flock like an expert shepherd till the evening.

In the evening, the boy was preparing to take the flock to the village. The meerkat said, “I want to go with you wherever you go.”

The boy replied without more ado, “I cannot take you to my house. I have a stepfather and several siblings. My father would beat me badly if I get another mouth to feed with me. Our home is too small to accommodate another person.”

“But you have accepted me once”, protested the ghostly creature, “if you do not want me for yourself, you have to keep me with someone else elsewhere.”

So the boy directed him to his childless neighbour’s house. The meerkat found a proper home there forever thereafter.  

The Den of the Dragon

Image credit: Wikimedia commons

The story comes from Switzerland but it has another version in Austria

In the canton of Bern, a cave near the city of Burgdorf, which is famous for its castle is called Drachenloch, in English – Dragon-cave. They say two giant dragons were found here long back before the castle was built.

According to the local legend, in the year 712, two brothers named Syntram and Beltram, whom others called Guntram and Waltram were the dukes of Lensburg. They came to this area to hunt and discovered the deserted forest on the top of the hills. In a cave there, lied a monstrous dragon which had desolated the entire area till far. It was probably starving as there was no other animal left in the forest. As soon as it noticed the humans, it jumped at them and instantly devoured Bertram, his younger brother, alive. Syntram however was able to defend himself. He charged at the dragon with indomitable courage. After a long fight, he finally defeated the wild creature. The giant’s big stomach was split – Beltram was still alive inside.

The two brothers now had a reason to immortalize their victory. They decided to build a castle here and constructed a chapel dedicated to Holy Margaretha on the spot where the dragon was killed. The story of their encounter with the dragon was inscribed on its wall.

Bubenried or the Marshland of the Boys

This is a story from Hessen region.

In the district of Gross-Bieberau there is a valley called Bubenried towards Ueberau. Locals did not go there at night as had fear meeting some hair-raising unknown there.

Eiserner Vorhang in Hessen : picture from Wikimedia commons

Long back, even before the days of war and famine broke out in the region, there lived two beggar boys. They took care of each other with much affection. Since they came to the valley, they always used to share their alms with each other. .

They had saved only a couple of sheet-metal coins those days, but the rich Schulz gave one to a poor soul so that he could share that with his spouse. Anyway they shared everything else well between them. So one afternoon after a hard days begging, returning their abode the boy took out the loaf of bread he earned from his sack. The smell of the fresh bread was so good that he held it close to his nose. He smelled it once, then twice and thrice – the sweet smell made him greedy. He no longer wanted to share it with the other boy, rather keep it to himself. He began eating it instantly.

The peace between them came to an end. That was the first time they quarreled, and from the words it came to scuffling and wrestling. None of them could dominate the other. Each one tore a pole from the pen to fight with each the other as if they were led by the evil spirit. After fighting long they fatally hit on each other’s head. Both died together. It was such a ferocious fight that even after three nights after the violent death of both, no leaf on any tree around that marshland dared moving – no bird sang in the valley. After their death they turned into monsters and staying there since then. You will hear them whimpering and whining once you go there.

Which war the story is talking about? Since 15th century the ownership of the region changed hands several times and hence might have seen many wars. IN recent history we know of 30 years war that took place in 18th century and at the end of which the region became part of Großherzogtum (Grand Duchy) Hessen.